Grand Teton, North Face of Enclosure

Wyoming, Tetons
Author: George Lowe. Climb Year: N/A. Publication Year: 1970.

On August 22 the most recent and most difficult route on the Grand Teton was established by Mike Lowe and me. This excellent climb, rated IV, F9, A2, ascends the most obvious and direct line leading from Valhalla Canyon to the summit of the Enclosure. The initial portion of this route was worked out earlier, on August 6, by Jack Turner, Leigh Ortenburger and me. Directly to the north of and below the summit of the Enclosure is a massive buttress composed of the best kind of yellow Teton rock. Few fractures of any kind are to be found on this buttress, but no route which completely avoids it can be called direct. From a distance the two chimneys on the west face of this buttress appear to offer the best route so Mike and I selected them. The approach to this climb was made in different ways by both parties. On the unsuccessful attempt, we proceeded from Valhalla Canyon as if approaching the Black Ice Couloir. We had some moderate ice climbing to pass the icefield below the wall which protects the upper section of the couloir. Another ice pitch along the edge of this icefield led to two or three rope-lengths of scrambling on rock and occasional ice on the left (east) side of the northwest ice couloir. Well past the lateral entrance to the Black Ice Couloir, we found a chimney system leading upward toward the beginning of the main vertical, blackish chimney in the vertical buttress. One or two leads up these short but difficult (F7) chimneys led to a good ledge, just under an overhang to the right of the chimney system.

The successful summit party bivouacked on this ledge after approaching via the Lower Saddle and the Valhalla Traverse ledge. The next three leads were the crux of the climb, all involving very strenuous climbing. The first starts with a short F8 climb to an overhang, where mixed climbing (F8, A2) leads left over the roof, then up and left into the chimney which in this section is but a wide jam-crack. On our ascent this leftish traverse was impeded by a very large loose flake perched on a 3-inch ledge. This was pushed off to simplify the route. Once the chimney is reached, strenuous F8 work is required to ascend to a comfortable belay from the top of a chock stone. The chimney above begins to be wet and icy, conditions which do not make the climbing easy or pleasant. Free climbing up to a flake is followed by about four direct-aid pitons on the left wall. (This could be climbed free with a large bong for protection.) These permit access into the upper section of the chimney where the F9 chimneying or jam-cracking begins. This is a very long (150 feet) pitch requiring great strength and technique to reach the belay on a sloping shelf out to the left of the chimney. This was the high point of the first attempt which ended here late in the afternoon ill-prepared for a night. The next pitch, up a second nearly vertical and wet section, proved no easier, requiring F9 climbing to reach the top of a pillar to the right of the chimney. The angle first started to ease at the end of the next pitch (F7) where we reached a broad, sloping ledge. From this ledge, on the 12th pitch, we passed some loose rock and came out on top of the first main buttress which was described at the beginning.

The wall protecting the final icefield and summit chimneys was set back from the top of the buttress by a small talus slope. The prow of this wall was climbed using an F8 flake and steep chimney. Then we scrambled up and right 500 feet along the edge of the icefield, which had never before been visited, and ultimately crossed the ice and passed behind a large detached flake. Next we climbed a series of difficult chimneys (F7) straight up to the ledge running along the base of the three summit chimneys. The left (east) chimney was selected for climbing and it proved to be an easy tunnel to the very summit.

This superb climb has enough difficulties to satisfy almost anyone, and its mixed character, requiring genuine ice climbing, places it in a rather select group of difficult American climbs requiring skill in both rock and ice technique. The grand old mountain yielded her 23rd distinct route, but not without extracting great effort from those who succeeded. Those who follow are not likely to find it much easier.

George Lowe